Let’s say you’re an editor at a Canadian news outlet and a writer pitches you a story idea about the rise of anti-Semitism. It’s a deep exploration, he tells you, into how the right wing in Canada has adopted the ages-old anti-Semitic trope of blaming society’s ills on “foreign-funded” radicals. You’d probably give the writer the go-ahead, yes? I mean what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a lot.
Last week, Vice, an online news outlet, published “The Anti-Semitic Roots of Canadian Conservatives’ ‘Foreign Funded Radicals’ Attacks,” by Winnipeg-based writer James Wilt. At 2,200 words, the essay seeks to draw out connections between the right and anti-Semitism, with lengthy references to Alberta politics, Indigenous movements and environmental activism.
That’s a lot to unpack, and Wilt opens with a major revelation, accusing Joe Oliver, the former Conservative member of Parliament and cabinet minister, of employing anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Stop the presses. Oliver, the Jewish MP, Canada’s first Jewish finance minister – a man who has fought for Jewish causes and the state of Israel his entire professional life – is apparently an anti-Semite. (So too, according to the story, are current Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party and a former federal Conservative MP and cabinet minister.) Who knew?
Kenney responded to the Vice piece online, fuming that “The left’s politics of personal destruction is not constrained by facts, logic, or libel law” and listing his many connections to the Canadian Jewish community and its major institutions. Political commentator David Frum called the attempt to link Kenney to anti-Semitism a “beyond-bizarre move” that “is at least novel, since usually [Kenney’s] extremist opponents attack him as offensively over friendly to Jews.” Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt – note to Wilt: both Jews – also lambasted the article.
Sen. Linda Frum, meanwhile, suggested Wilt “obviously doesn’t realize” that Oliver is Jewish. That point, to my mind, is very much up for debate, but in any case, Vice added a clarification to the article: the second mention of Oliver’s name is now followed by the very helpful description, “who is Jewish.”
That wasn’t the only edit Vice made to Wilt’s piece after it was published. As Marc Weisblott, The CJN’s intrepid Trending correspondent, pointed out on social media, the apparently on-the-fly changes to the story had a rather comical effect. One section that originally read, “Let’s be very clear. Proponents of the ‘foreign funded radicals’ trope … aren’t explicitly anti-Semitic” was changed to “Let’s be very clear. We are not saying proponents of the ‘foreign funded radicals’ trope… are anti-Semitic.”
Another part arguing “the entire subtext of the ‘foreign funding’ campaign – whether intended to [or] not – tapped into centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes” was edited to read “the entire subtext of the ‘foreign funding’ campaign – even if not the speaker’s intention – tapped into centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes.” Sounds like someone at Vice got worried about receiving a lawyer’s notice in the mail.
Back on Twitter, Becca Wertman, managing editor and Canadian liaison for the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor wrote, “This article is a joke.” It was an elegantly simple summation of Vice’s train wreck. Too bad no one was actually laughing.